Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why do we have to keep changing things?

Why do we have to keep changing things?

I recently was at a family event where a family member who is a teacher stated, “I wish they would just quit changing things in our district, it seems like we just get something started and we move on to the next thing.”  Of course, “I promptly replied well if you are not continually looking to improve and change, then what are you doing?”  Some of the changes that we discussed included implementing standards based grading, changing a school calendar to allow for better collaboration opportunities, professional development, providing periods of time for student support during the school year rather than waiting for a summer school session, expectations surrounding the use of certain instructional strategies, and a new teacher evaluation system.  I felt I made several valid points and offered solid reasons why these changes should be occurring.  I asked a few questions such as, “Are you currently meeting all students’ needs?; Doesn’t it make sense to offer students opportunities to catch up during the year rather than waiting until the summer?; You have stated that kids are not the same as they used to be, right?”  This dialogue when on for a while, and nothing I asked or stated eased this individual’s frustration.  I was viewed as that educational leader that just likes to change things for the sake of changing things.  After the conversation was over, I was reflecting later, about why this individual was so frustrated with all the changes they were experiencing.  Each of the changes we discussed were great things that helped kids and improved instruction.  

There were several clues that this person shared during the conversation that indicated why these changes were so frustrating, and pointed towards insights that educational leaders must consider when leading change.

William Bridges (2003) believes there are four P’s that individuals have to have as they experience a “new beginning,” or change; Purpose, Picture, Plan and Part.  Purpose is fairly straight forward, individuals need to understand “why” the change is occurring.  Too often educational leaders start down the path of a change with a crystal clear understanding of why the change should happen, but we fail to communicate that reasoning in a manner that is understood by those that are implementing the change.  I often talk about the concept of “connecting the dots” for teachers, as leaders we are looking out on the horizon and see how a change now positions the system for better success down the road or how one change connects to other aspects of the system.  Teachers often are not afforded the opportunity to see the connections.  Intentionally making these connections is a critical part of the second “P,” Picture.  Individuals need to see what the end result will look like and understand how it feels if the change has been successful.  Portraying a clear picture in the beginning also makes evaluating the success of the change a much easier task down the road.

The next “P,” Plan relates to having a communicated plan for how to get from the current reality to the desired reality that accompanies the implementation of the change.  Frequently, in education our plans are all around the “roll out” of the change, and we neglect to plan for the monitoring and evaluation of progress with the change.  If we are monitoring and evaluating the progress of our change, we are planning and developing the necessary supports to increase the implementation of the change with the educators that are living through the change.  This will ultimately determine the success or failure of the change. Individuals will have varying degrees of success with the change as they begin to implement, so we must plan for support when barriers not present at the outset of the change arise.  As individuals implement a change, we have to provide opportunities to ask questions, provide follow up information and support.  These supports ultimately lead to an implementation that resembles the desired results that were portrayed in the second “P,” Picture.  As individuals work through these barriers their motivation and willingness to fully implement the change will increase as they begin to make the connections between the defined “picture” that was initially described and the current reality.

The final “P,” Part, is where leaders must personalize the message related to the change.  Individuals need to know what their role is in implementing the change or what their part of the plan includes.  Many times we let teachers “self discover” their role or part of the plan, instead of personalizing and communicating what the change will mean to them in their role.  This personalization can only occur if we are clearly defining the Purpose of the change, painting a clear Picture that the educator understands, and developing a Plan that incorporates the necessary supports for educators regardless of where they are at with the implementation of the change.  They will still have to work through some “self discovery,” but a well defined Purpose, Picture, Plan will help them more quickly realize their part in the change.

All of us at some point in our leadership experiences have felt that we covered the four “P’s,”  and the people implementing the change are just being stubborn, or obstinate when it comes time to implement.  The reality is the four “P’s,” are ever evolving based on the individual that is experiencing the change.  The only way for us to ensure the four “P’s” align to the needs of the individuals living through the change is for us to do a better job of communicating, specifically the listening aspects of communication. If we are listening to our educators to determine if the four “P’s” are actually a reality, we can tailor the message and supports related to the deficient area, Purpose, Picture, Plan or Part.
I know, of any those topics discussed previously are going to raise educators anxieties, because they will require a change in how they have previously conducted their work as professionals, often times with high rates of success!  I am certain that any person reading this blog has experienced at least one of those changes and understands the stress, frustration, anxiety, and concern that can accompany the change.  The reality we face in education is the only constant is change.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Aspiring Superintendents Workshop 2014

This past week KASB hosted the annual Aspiring Superintendents Workshop.  20 enthusiastic educational leaders were in attendance.  The day consisted of multiple learning opportunities for future district level leaders.

The morning session began with an hour long overview of the Performance and Efficiency Committee (PEC) report.  USD 512 Shawnee Mission Superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson led the discussion and review.  The PEC discussion allowed the aspiring superintendents a glimpse into the amount of information and the many tasks a superintendent must take responsibility for as a district leader.

Dr. Brian Jordan lead a guided reflection with attendees to help them see where they strengths and weakness lie as a leader.  A clear understanding of personal strengths and matching leadership skills to districts needs was emphasized and discussed.  The aspiring superintendents worked through several leadership scenarios directed at the role of the superintendent and their relationship with the school boards.  The small group discussions allowed the aspiring superintendents to share knowledge and garner new insights.   

Mr. Gary Sechrist followed up with the nuts and bolts of the search process.  Mr. Sechrist provided the aspiring superintendents insights into developing quality application letters, and resumes.  He explained the process that KASB search consultants use with the boards to determined their desired characteristics of a new superintendent, and how those characteristics are used as part of the screening process.  Participants were given key considerations as they determine where they should apply for superintendent positions and the interview process.  KASB emphasized that they work for Kansas school boards but the goal in the search process is to help each district find the best leader for their community.

The role of the superintendent requires leaders to be able to manage change, focus on leadership and create a purposeful community.  The superintendency also needs individuals that  possess the skills to manage the financial aspects of the district.    Districts in need of a new superintendent are alway searching for the best candidate to fulfill the above requirements.  The Aspiring Superintendent workshop was the beginning for many of these potential candidates to prepare themselves for the position.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What I learned at this year's KASB Summits

The past two weeks KASB has been touring the state as part of the Fall Summits, visiting with educational leaders about the Rose Capacities.  There was great discussion around improving our schools and student achievement with a focus on district needs.  Many of the superintendents and board members believed they were complying to the best of their district’s ability to provide students opportunities to meet the Rose capacities.  Participants welcomed the seven standards as a blueprint for guidance for a well-rounded education.  The capacities seemed to fit within the educational philosophy of the educators and board members in attendance.   The importance of these standards created excellent dialogue to guarantee that all students have the opportunity afforded through the Rose Capacities.

One of the topics we spent time discussing with board members and superintendents was how to properly frame a change, and target groups of influentials to increase the successful implementation of a change.  There were no surprises shared by the participants related to change.  Change is hard!  Thoughts about the change process were discussed as participants focused on changes they would like to make within their respective districts.  Common terms shared by participants that they associated with change included: exciting, new opportunities, and fun.  In contrast, others shared feelings of stress, fear, and challenging.  Interestly, these feelings align with what the research has found.  The feelings or implications associated with a change stem from the individual living the change asking,"how will this change affect me?”  A person’s perception of the change being easy or difficult is associated with the individual’s past experiences, norms of operation, personal values, and existing knowledge and/or skills.  As a leader implements and guides change they must consider how the change will be different from individuals living the change past experiences, challenges personal values, misaligns with norms of operation or will require new skills and or knowledge.  As implications arise in these areas the likelihood of that individual adopting or implementing the change decreases.  The same change will be perceived differently by different stakeholders and the prudent leader realizes that different stakeholder groups will need different supports to adopt or implement the change.  In these situations the leader must find ways to invite collaboration, provide more support, and align the purpose of the change to the overarching mission and vision of the system.   Regardless of the magnitude of the change, the perceptive leader must continue to explain the purpose behind the desired outcome, and “paint the picture” of what the change will look like when achieved.  As plans are communicated to those impacted by the change, leaders must identify for individuals or groups their part in the change process.

There is no doubt that Kansas administrators, local Boards of Educations and community influencers can make a difference in their educational system when working together towards a common goal.  The Rose Capacities can be the standards by which all Kansas school districts strive for attainment.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Superintendent Workshop

The Kansas Associations of School Boards hosted their annual New Superintendents Workshop on August 21, at the KASB offices.  New superintendents from around the state participated in the day of activities.  Topics included information based on our mission of “Being a Voice, Improving Student Outcomes, and Culture of Service.  Several staff members shared insights into the many services KASB provides for school boards and districts.


New superintendents in attending were:
Jason Crawford, USD 283 Elk Valley
Lyn Rantz , USD 464 Tonganoxie
Bill Mullins,  USD 364 Marysville
Greg Clark USD 112 Central Plains
Steve Lilly, USD 342 McLouth
Derick Reihart, USD 303 Ness City
Joel Lovesee, USD 205 Bluestem
Tom Dolenz, USD 225, Fowler

KASB asked several experienced superintendents to help participate in the day by sharing insights from their early years in their new role as a district leader.


Mr. Doug Conwell, from USD 417 Morris County Schools shared insights about the evaluation process and the impact a high quality model can have on improving instruction and impacting achievement.  Mr. Darrell Kohlman, from USD 115 Nemaha Central discussed the many trials and challenges of leading a district through the consolidation process and unifying a newly designed district.  He also share how utilizing KASB Legal Services helped to make his job more manageable.

Dr. Mike Berblinger, from USD 313 Buhler shared the importance of working with the board to establish clear goals and expectations for continuous improvement.   He explained how developing a clear set of goals has allowed he and the board to focus their attention on what really matters to the district and community.  Dr. Berblinger had just concluded his first year as a superintendent.  His insights allowed the new superintendents to witness the influence a new superintendent and the local board can make on the culture and climate of a district.

All in all it was a day of networking and sharing insights with leaders new to role of district leadership.  KASB staff also took the opportunity to create an awareness of the many services we provide for districts that can help improve efficiency and effectiveness.   

Friday, August 15, 2014

Preaching to the Choir

The first few times I heard that expression years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. Of course we “preach to the choir,” they are always in attendance. Members of the choir are committed and engaged; they want good things to happen and are happy to participate. That is the problem many educational leaders face; we have done a great job telling our story to the people that are committed and engaged. That is good strategy but not a winning one. We need to find a way to spend some time focused on some better ideas.

While traveling the state working with school boards for the past eight years, I have had the good fortune of being part of many wonderful discussions. They always involve education leaders passionate about improving public education. For the past four or five years many of the same concerns or common themes seem to come up at the meetings:
  • The needs of our students and community have changed;
  • We need do a better job of preparing our students with life skills;
  • We want to do more for our students, but we don’t have the necessary resources to make that happen;
  • We must do a better job of helping our kids that are at-risk.
These conversations have happened in districts both large and small and the sense of frustration is palpable. It is even more discouraging for school boards and superintendents when they make the difficult program/personnel decisions based on budget reductions and restrictions. When the measure of our success is efficiency vs. effectiveness, we are fighting a losing battle. The discussion should be about effective and efficient systems, not just cheaper ones.

So how do we move beyond the choir and the congregation and find a way to speak with our community? How do we have a conversation with our stakeholders to find out what they want for their students as they prepare them for the future? What do your students, parents and community members want from our school systems? There are many cities and towns in Kansas right now that are facing critical financial situations. The discussions at some board tables are focused on “how do we keep our doors open” to meet the needs of our students instead of how do we hire staff, add programs, and curricula that will improve student outcomes. When boards and administrators are forced to make the tough decisions angry patrons with legitimate concerns “storm the gates” and demand the school board “fix it.” There is no such thing as an easy fix. I have yet to visit with a school board member or a superintendent in Kansas that didn’t want to do more for their students. Boards are not cutting opportunities for students because they want too; they are doing it because they don’t have the resources necessary to prepare students for success.

How do we move these important discussions beyond the people that already agree with us? A few years ago school districts around the stated hosted “Kansas Conversations.” They were designed and developed to allow community members to come and share thoughts on their local district. We had 90 districts and over 2,000 people share their insights, ideas, and concerns. What we discovered was simple. Everything we do in our schools is important to someone. As one might imagine we had some people throw programs and people under the bus. “We don’t need sports.” “Why is the music/art department such a big deal?” “Why do we need so many teachers/paras in the school?” Yes, there were complaints about buses, meals, activities and taxes, but when they sat down across the table from a fellow community member and heard different parents perspective, suddenly they were a lot less critical and had a better understanding of “all” students. Some parents told stories of the importance of the fine arts; others share how important sports were to their child’s success. Everything our schools do is important to someone. That is the important message. We need to help our communities understand “WHY” it costs more to prepare our students for the future in 2014, than it did in 1974.

In closing, nearly every day I have a discussion with Mark Tallman, associate executive director for advocacy and communication. They are always about the same topics, the importance of education, the future of education, what can we do to better share the message with our members. Therein lays the issue. Many of our members are well informed and committed to the cause of public education. We have come to realize that we can’t keep doing what we have always done. We have to take a different approach. We have to speak up and share our vision with more than just people that agree with us. Now we have to raise our voices and speak with all of the people in our district and community. The famous quote from John Lewis says: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” It really is up to us to carry this message. Let’s stop preaching to just the choir, and let’s get started today.

Friday, August 8, 2014

New Board Leaders Workshop

This past week KASB hosted two days of training for new board leaders.  Over 70 people from across the state attended sessions in Hays and Topeka.  The topics included discussions on board culture and the importance of student achievement for communities.
Dr. Brian Jordan facilitated the workshop with support from KASB staff.  This year’s workshop was designed in a much more interactive model.  Much of the day was spent in peer groups sharing insights and comparing board experiences.  A benefit of these sessions was the networking opportunities established by meeting new individuals with a mutual purpose. The lessons were prepared around common issues related to board leadership.  The participants were actively engaged in learning through doing during these workshops
Both days provided opportunities for questions for the KASB legal staff surrounding executive sessions and board procedures.  We ended both days with a “mock board meeting”  to present teachable moments to share best practices.
Over all it was two great days of learning.  Kansas is so fortunate to have so many wonderful people willing to serve communities in this important task.  The passion for students and schools was on display this past week  The staff at KASB was pleased have the opportunity serve educational leaders in their quest for continuous improvement.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Balanced Leadership, being intentional with leadership

 “Summer is three months off between the end of school and the start of the next school year.”  How often do educators hear that quote?  Recently at KASB a group of 18 educational leaders took some of that “time off,” to gain a better understanding of the research surrounding effective educational leadership.  As participants in the Balanced Leadership program, this group of educational leaders will spend a total of seven days working with the Leadership Services staff refining and developing their skills as educational leaders.  The participants spent the first two days unpacking the research associated with the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, and reflecting on their own leadership behaviors.  They discussed and reflected on how they manage change they face within their schools.  One of the key pieces of knowledge educational leaders discussed is how the magnitude of change is directly connected to the perceptions of the individual experiencing the change.  
The educational leaders were also asked to reflect on their school’s focus. Are we spending our time and resources on people and programs that impact achievement? The administrative teams reviewed research and discussed ideas that will yield the desired results? McREL’s Balanced Leadership program is designed to enhance the skills of building level leaders.  A major outcome of the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, is equipping leaders to shift the focus to those practices that have research based, results driven programs.  
Is our school community purposeful?  Have all stakeholders agreed on outcomes that align to our students’ needs. Class members discussed topics ranging from developing collective efficacy to improve and enhance building culture to managing first and second order change. Those are the core questions the educational leaders considered as they assessed their school community.  Our school community often has not answered these critical questions, and consequently do not make the desired gains, as their processes and resources are spread too thin.
The educational leaders here at KASB early this week spent time working and sharing knowledge and insights, learning from past experience as they worked to improve their leadership skills.  It is always impressive to work with committed, hardworking school leaders.

The educational leaders’ Balanced Leadership training is a partnership between KASB and McREL.  It is based on the proven research and resources of McREL and focuses participants on the knowledge and skills needed to bring about the changes required to improve student achievement.  For more information, please contact KASB.